Friday's tornadoes too close for comfort

Terry Aldhizer captured this photo from the Mill Mountain Star overlook as the storm approached Downtown Roanoke

The images of the Hampton, Virginia tornado seem sureal. The ominous clouds and spinning debris. National Weather Service (NWS) rated the waterspout/tornado near Hampton an EF-1, with 98mph winds.

According to the NWS, the tornado began as a waterspout touchdown near the Monitor Merrimac Memorial Bridge around 8:13 p.m. It then went over Chesapeake Avenue before moving through downtown Hampton and the Hampton Yacht Club.

From there, it went into the Chesapeake Bay before dissipating.

A waterspout is essentially a tornado over water. When the waterspout comes onto land, it begins picking up debris and gets the name tornado. Likewise, a tornado that travels into the water becomes a waterspout.

(PHOTO BELOW: Nancy Moore took this picture from her front window on Chesapeake Avenue in the Wythe section of Hampton right before it expanded and went towards Merrimac Shores.)

waterspout-tornado

SOUTHWEST VA STORMS IN THE MAKING

We [WDBJ7 Meteorologists] knew Friday would be an active weather day. On Wednesday, three days before the severe weather outbreak, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma had placed the eastern seaboard under a "slight" risk for severe weather.

Our forecasts highlighted that potential starting Wednesday. By Thursday, it was imminent our region would see severe weather, and by Friday morning the line of storms was right at our back door.

8:00AM: Clouds and showers started the day along and west of the Blue Ridge. On days when severe weather is forecast, clouds are our friends; often keeping the atmosphere a little more stable. However, Friday's storms weren't driven by heat alone. An upper-level disturbance was adding a bit of "spin" to the atmosphere.

1:30PM: Small, compact yet strong storms began developing in Central VA  ahead of the main line of storms approaching from West Virginia. It was in the same areas (Lynchburg and Southside) that had seen a good amount of sunlight earlier in the day.

1:45PM: The Storm Prediction Center issued a TORNADO WATCH for the entire WDBJ7 viewing area.

1:53PM: Doppler Radar detected rotation in a discreet cell near Forks of Buffalo. The first TORNADO WARNING was issued for Amherst. 

1:56: Meteorologist Brent Watts took the air with tornado warning coverage. That storm moved into Nelson County, where the warning continued. Reports of small trees down and 1.50"+ diameter hail.

Meanwhile, the line of storms meteorologists had been watching since before sunrise was now approaching the KY/VA state line. While the 4KM Rapid Precision Mesoscale  (RPM) models were a bit sketchy on the pre-frontal storms, it had seen this main line clearly the past several days leading up to the event.

The lines had a history of "bowing" (center of the line pushes ahead of the rest), with 50mph+ winds accompanied by sideways, blinding rain.

5:00PM: Meteorologists Robin Reed and Brent Watts take the air for the newscast, highlighting the rest of the evening's severe threat.

5:08PM: A TORNADO WARNING was issued for a cell over Rockbridge Co, Lexington and Buena Vista. First Alert Meteorologists immediately took the air from news anchor Hollani Davis. Viewer photos confirm skies, black as night. However, no damage reports from Rockbridge Emergency Manager.

At the same time as the tornado warned storm in Rockbridge, the main line of strong storms had moved through the New River Valley with nearly 50mph gusts. The line was moving into Salem.

As the storm approached Roanoke, Terry Aldhizer was at the Mill Mountain Star. A wedding was taking place on the main overlook, so she went to the second one to snap photos.